Michael Gove “physically ripped up” an official report on future customs options with the EU in anger after believing his concerns had been underplayed.
In the latest of tensions in the cabinet to enter the public arena, it was reported the environment secretary was “livid” on Wednesday evening when a government document claimed his Brexit working group had agreed a customs partnership with the bloc was viable.
It comes as Theresa May prepares to host divided cabinet ministers at her Chequers residence on Friday to thrash out the UK’s plans for the next phase of the Brexit negotiations on issues including trade and customs.
Brexiteers oppose a customs partnership with the EU, which would see the UK collect tariffs set by the EU customs union on goods entering the country on behalf of the bloc.
Their maximum facilitation – or “max fac” – alternative would, rather than scrapping customs checks, use technology to minimise the need for them. Ms May had split an inner Cabinet committee on Brexit into two to allow more work to be carried out on each option.
But after six weeks of meetings, a summary drawn up by civil servants on discussions about the customs partnership option favoured by the prime minister “downplayed to almost nothing” concerns raised by Mr Gove, according to a column in The Sun.
The Cabinet minister was “livid” and “physically ripped” the document in two at a meeting on Wednesday evening with civil servants to “show he wasn’t prepared to accept the document as a summary of their discussions”, the newspaper added.
The account was not disputed when The Independent approached Mr Gove’s spokesman for comment.
The leak of Mr Gove’s actions is the latest sign that collective responsibility at the highest levels of government has broken down after a series of reports this week of infighting and blows traded publicly among cabinet ministers.
On Friday, the former Brexit minister and Conservative peer Lord Bridges urged ministers to stop “lobbing grenades at each other” to prevent a “rout” in the Brexit negotiations.
“If nothing changes, there’s a danger the UK will have to agree to a withdrawal treaty full of meaningless waffle on our future relationship with the EU,” he wrote in the London Evening Standard.
He added: “You must compromise – among yourselves, then with Europe.
”Some of you feel passionately that restoring Parliamentary sovereignty is more important than keeping trade flowing. Others feel passionately the other way. But if you stay in your trenches, lobbing grenades at each other, the EU will be the winner.”
Pressed earlier this week, Ms May’s spokesman insisted that the cabinet “from the PM down” are “focused on the job of delivering for Britain”.
Asked if collective responsibility still applies, he replied: “Yes.”